ACCESS students thank donorsPublished 10:39pm Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Qadree Willis wasn’t the only one shedding tears as he shared his story at Tuesday’s ACCESS College Foundation luncheon.
The Lakeland High School senior had a 1.5 grade-point average just a couple years ago. He admitted he was paying too much attention to partying and girls and was barely passing classes.
But then he met his ACCESS College adviser, he told the gathering of about 40 teary-eyed people at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.
“Before I met him, I wasn’t sure where I was headed in life,” Willis said.
He started to buckle down in school and improve his grades, but it wasn’t enough to get into his top choices of colleges. Discouraged, he almost gave up. But then the acceptance letters started to roll in — from Chowan University, Virginia State University, Louisburg College.
“It felt really good to know I was going to college for sure, and I had options on top of that,” he said.
Even through other setbacks, Willis has decided to attend Virginia State University and pursue a master’s degree in physical therapy. He received a standing ovation from the luncheon guests.
The ACCESS College Foundation is a nonprofit that serves 29 public high schools in South Hampton Roads, including the three in Suffolk. It is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year but has been in Suffolk for only nine years.
Advisers based in each high school help students walk through the entire college process, from keeping their grades up and registering for the SAT to applying to colleges and making the final decision.
The organization also gives scholarships and helps students and their families apply for federal student aid.
Two other students who spoke at Tuesday’s event said the organization had helped them as well.
Jesse Bishop, who will graduate from Nansemond River High School this year, said his adviser helped him sign up for standardized tests, apply for fee waivers and gather everything he needed for applications.
“Getting everything prepared for a college or scholarship application is always a hassle,” he said.
He now plans to obtain a degree in environmental science and then join the U.S. Air Force as an officer.
Christine Fulgham, a King’s Fork High School senior in the International Baccalaureate program, said her adviser encouraged her to apply for early admission, which took off a lot of pressure later in the process.
“It has given me a chance to examine my options carefully,” she said. “It has been helping me stay on top of things. The ACCESS Foundation has been my rock. Without it, I don’t know where me and my friends would be in our college journeys.”
Fulgham plans to attend the College of William and Mary and major in pre-med biology.
Overall, the organization has helped more than 7,000 students since coming to Suffolk nine years ago. More than 2,000 students used about $21 million in financial aid, and 244 of them received ACCESS scholarships totaling nearly $230,000.
“These three are truly the reason we do what we do,” president and chief executive officer Bonnie Sutton said.
Supporters of the program in Suffolk were recognized at the event, including BASF Corporation, Birdsong Corporation, Chorey and Associates Realty, Community Action Coalition of Virginia, Cross Realty, Farmers Bank, Nansemond Charitable Foundation, Richard Bennett Trust, the Rutherfoord Companies, Suffolk Foundation, Suffolk Public Schools, Suffolk Rotary Club and TowneBank.
Sutton said the organization is looking for more support to increase its services and the number of scholarships it is able to offer. For more information on the organization, visit www.accesscollege.org.